2016 All-Star Ballot (part 1)

Every team in baseball has played more than 40 games, at this point.  And, you know what that means . . . we’re half way to the All-Star break!  So, I thought it was about time to discuss who is looking like an All-Star this year.  Emphasis on this year.  Unlike some voters, I don’t really care what a guy did last season, and whether or not he was “snubbed” from the Mid-Summer Classic a year ago.  How are you performing right now?  Are you putting up All-Star numbers?  If not . . . better luck next year.  Well, that, or you have about another month or so to get your act together if you want my vote(s).

Since it’s still early in the season, we won’t spend a ton of time discussing each position.  But, I do think it’s worth taking a look to see who is actually performing like an All-Star.  Because, there may very well be some surprises.  Keep in mind, the stats listed are all prior to last night’s games.

Catcher

AL – This is always one of the more difficult positions for me.  Trying to find the appropriate balance between offensive production, and defensive prowess is debated more behind the plate than anywhere else on the diamond.  At this point, though, in the American League, the decision is fairly easy:  Matt Wieters (BAL) – .283/.330/.455, 4 HR, 16 RBI.  There’s only one catcher in the AL with more than 100 PA’s that is legitimately out-performing Wieters offensively (McCann), and Wieters is lightyears ahead defensively.  On the flip side of that coin, there’s really only one catcher in the AL that is significantly better than Wieters behind the plate (Perez), and Wieters is head and shoulders ahead of him offensively, at this point.  So, for now, I believe Weiters is the best balanced candidate in the AL.

Others to watch:  Brian McCann (NYY), Jason Castro (HOU), Salvador Perez (KC)

NL – The catcher position in the National League is perhaps a little easier to decide:  Wilson Ramos (WSH).  Ramos is far and away the best offensive catcher in baseball, at this point.  His .347/.389/.525 slash line is especially impressive at a position that doesn’t really emphasize offense as much.  And, Ramos is middle of the pack defensively.  Depending on the metrics, there are about half a dozen catchers in the NL performing better than Ramos behind the plate.  But, only 2 of those are even having slightly above-average seasons offensively (Posey & Castillo).  For now, Ramos’ offense is so much better, that I think he deserves the vote.  But, if Posey heats up offensively, or if Molina or Lucroy make strides on defense to surpass Ramos, there could be a lot of fluctuation here.

Others to watch:  Buster Posey (SF), Yadier Molina (STL), Jonathan Lucroy (MIL)

 

First Base

AL – The choice here is easy:  Miguel Cabrera (DET).  Now, while I said it was an easy choice – that doesn’t mean it isn’t close.  Hosmer is just a notch behind Cabrera in pretty much every offensive category.  And, Cabrera even has him beat defensively at the moment.  Cabrera is quietly having another impressive season – .315/.388/.537, 9 HR, 26 RBI.

Others to watch:  Eric Hosmer (KC), Carlos Santana (CLE), Chris Davis (BAL)

NL – Another choice that was pretty easy, but still very close:  Anthony Rizzo (CHC) – .240/.379/.526, 11 HR, 34 RBI.  The bizarre thing about Rizzo’s stat line is that his OBP, and ultimately his OPS (which leads all NL first basemen), are both very high, in spite of the fact that his batting average is as low as it is.  But, that just further proves how obsolete of a stat batting average is becoming.  Rizzo is also one of the top fielding first basemen in the league.

Others to watch:  Brandon Belt (SF), Paul Goldschmidt (ARI), Chris Carter (MIL)

 

Second Base

AL – Wow.  There are some second basemen in both leagues that are having really impressive seasons, but likely won’t get close to starting in the All-Star game.  Mainly because there are two guys having unbelievable seasons.  In the AL, it’s Jose Altuve (HOU) – .328/.413/.582, 9 HR, 27 RBI, 15 SB.  If he keeps this up, he could be in the MVP discussion.  Well, if Houston doesn’t continue to tank, that is.

Others to watch:  Robinson Cano (SEA), Ian Kinsler (DET)

NL – Potential MVP candidate in the NL:  Daniel Murphy (WSH) – .387/.420/.607, 6 HR, 28 RBI.  He’s playing so well, I don’t think there’s more than one second basemen in the NL that has a shot at catching him before the break.

Other to watch:  Ben Zobrist (CHC)

 

Shortstop

AL – What a loaded position this is in the American League!  And, loaded with youth, which means we get to enjoy this for several years to come.  Right now, my vote goes to:  Xander Bogaerts (BOS) – .346/.397/.495, 4 HR, 25 RBI, 6 SB.  Bogaerts is also an excellent fielding shortstop.  His overall numbers are leading, but not necessarily overshadowing, others at this position.  So, there could be a decent amount of fluctuation between now and July.

Others to watch:  Francisco Lindor (CLE), Carlos Correa (HOU)

NL – While this is another position that often places an emphasis on defense, the two best offensive shortstops in the NL are so far ahead of everyone else, I’m going to ignore the fact that they are both a little below average with the glove.  Right now, my vote goes to a guy you’re going to have to write in:  Aledmys Diaz (STL) – .352/.386/.599, 6 HR, 23 RBI.  Taking the place of the injured Peralta, Diaz has played his way into the starting job, regardless of what happens to Peralta in my mind.  And, while Story had the hot start to the season, Diaz is batting almost 70 points higher, and his OPS is 40 points higher.  Plus, Story is striking out at an alarming 31.9%, while Diaz only 9.2%

Others to watch:  Trevor Story (COL), Zack Cozart (CIN), Corey Seager (LAD)

 

Third Base

AL – Two more no-brainers here.  In the American League, we’re looking at another potential MVP candidate:  Manny Machado (BAL) – .308/.367/.610, 12 HR, 26 RBI.  And, Machado is arguably one of the best gloves in the game – regardless of position.

Others to watch:  Nick Castellanos (DET), Travis Shaw (BOS), Josh Donaldson (TOR)

NL Nolan Arenado (COL) – .307/.383/.620, 14 HR, 34 RBI, and another excellent fielding third baseman.  Arenado isn’t as far ahead of the rest of the pack as Machado is, but it’s enough to say he’s the clear choice.  But, don’t be surprised if one or more of these others catch up with him.

Others to watch:  Kris Bryant (CHC), Matt Carpenter (STL)

 

Outfield

AL – It kinda makes me chuckle that no one is even talking about Trout, in spite of the season he’s having (.321/.411/.564, 10 HR, 31 RBI).  It’s almost like we just expect that from him now.  But, probably even more surprising was my third choice in the outfield: 1) Jackie Bradley, Jr. (BOS) – .342/.413/.618, 8 HR, 33 RBI; 2) Mike Trout (LAA), and . . . 3) Michael Saunders (TOR) – .322/.388/.570, 8 HR, 15 RBI.  Be honest – who saw that coming?  And yet, he is the clear choice, as everyone else is well behind him in overall offensive production.

Others to watch:  Mark Trumbo (BAL), Nelson Cruz (SEA), Jose Bautista (TOR)

NL – I don’t think there are any surprises here, other than perhaps the order: 1) Yoenis Cespedes (NYM) – .298/.381/.660, 14 HR, 35 RBI; 2) Dexter Fowler (CHC) – .316/.435/.533, 5 HR, 21 RBI, 6 SB; 3) Bryce Harper (WSH) – .260/.451/.565, 11 HR, 30 RBI, 7 SB.  Braun is neck-and-neck with Harper in overall offensive production, but lags way behind in defense, which is why Harper definitely gets the nod here.

Others to watch:  Ryan Braun (MIL), Christian Yelich (MIA), Stephen Piscotty (STL)

 

And, if you don’t know who to vote for at DH . . . you probably need to start reading a different blog.  Hahaha.  Let’s just say it’s your last chance to see him in the Mid-Summer Classic.  Happy voting!

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2016 BOLD Predictions

Can you smell the grass?  Can you hear the crack of the bat?  Can you feel the excitement as each team has a fresh start?  We are less than a week from Opening Day.  And, that means it’s time for some bold predictions (see what I did there?).  Or, at least, some predictions.  I’m not sure how “bold” they are – you can be the judge of that for yourself.

MVP

25300218310_f88b4faee6_zJustin Upton (DET) and Anthony Rizzo (CHC).  Upton was an All-Star a year ago, and hit 26 HR . . . at Petco Park . . . in the midst of a terrible offense (ranked 28th in baseball in team OPS).  Now, Upton isn’t the centerpiece of the offense.  He’s an important cog, to be sure.  But, he isn’t the only one pitchers have to worry about.  He’ll be batting 2nd or 3rd, most likely.  And, behind him in the lineup will be the likes of Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez, and Victor Martinez.  Translation:  I see 2016 being Upton’s best offensive year of his career.  He might only bat around .280, but he’ll hit 35-40 HR, drive in 100+, and be the spark for a team that returns to the playoffs.

Rizzo hit 31 HR, drove in 101, and had an .899 OPS last season . . . his age 25 season.  The Bryce Harpers and Mike Trouts of the world make us forget that 25 is still very young.  And, when you look at Rizzo’s season in 2015, you see a guy who went through some significant droughts in his production (.785 OPS and just 4 HR in the month of July, for example).  As he matures as a hitter, those dry-spells are likely to get smaller and smaller.  He has 40+ HR potential, and could win a Gold Glove at 1B, as well.  Don’t be surprised if he leads this Cubs team to a World Series appearance, if not the unthinkable…

CY YOUNG

Marcus Stroman (TOR) and Johnny Cueto (SF).  Many times, a pitcher can build on the way he finished the previous season, and turn it into a great year the following season.  Jake Arrieta is a great example of that, after he finished the 2014 season by going 4-1 with a 2.29 ERA and 0.89 WHIP over his last six starts.  Stroman is poised for this in 2016.  After coming back from a knee injury that cost him nearly all of 2015, Stroman made four starts at the end of the regular season.  His first start was mediocre – 5 IP, 3 ER, 2 BB, 2 K.  But, the next three were impressive: 22 IP, just 2 ER (for a 0.82 ERA), 0.91 WHIP, and 16 K’s.  Obviously, he wouldn’t be able to keep that up for an entire season.  But, I think he’s well on his way to becoming an elite pitcher.

14136005620_1e0be50b98_zIf you look back at my top 10 starting pitchers for 2016, you’ll see that Cueto ranked 8th.  And, that’s based on the numbers he has put up over the last couple years, while pitching primarily in a hitter’s park.  Now, he’s moving out to San Fran – one of the parks where home runs go to die.  Add to that the fact that he will have a much better defense behind him than he has ever had in Cincinnati.  And, the fact that he isn’t expected to be the ace of that pitching staff.  Now you have a situation that could allow Cueto to have a season as good or better than his 2014 season, when he won 20 games, led the league in K’s, and had an ERA under 2.50.

SURPRISE TEAMS

Everyone’s talking about the improvements the Tigers made, and the fact that it’s an even year and the Giants made significant improvements to their starting rotation.  Lots of people are picking the Cubs to win their division, and possibly more.  The Diamondbacks made all that noise in the offseason, and people will be watching them now.  But, let me give you two teams that aren’t getting nearly as much publicity:  the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

Just a few years ago, no one would have ever expected these two teams to be flying below the radar.  But, think for a moment about what we have heard regarding these two teams.  Sure, the Red Sox made a pretty huge splash by signing David Price.  But, that was back in early December.  So much has happened since then that has overshadowed that bold move.  By signing Price, they now have a legit ace – something they were obviously missing last year.  And, now they can slide Buchholz into the #2 spot, followed at #3 by Porcello, and then they have lots of options for the back end of their rotation – including one of the best pitching prospects in the game, Henry Owens.  They also added significant depth to their bullpen with the addition of Craig Kimbrel.  They’ll get a full season of Rusney Castillo, and you can’t possibly expect Sandoval & Hanley to underperform again as badly as they did last year.

And, did you notice all the moves the Yankees made??  Oh, you didn’t?  Well, there’s a good reason for that.  The Yankees are the only team in baseball that didn’t sign a single free agent to a major-league contract.  How’s that for flipping the tables?  That’s not to say they sat on their hands.  They made two very shrewd trades that should pay significant dividends.  First, they traded for Starlin Castro.  The Yankees got a .683 OPS out of their second basemen last season.  Even at the young age of 26, Castro’s career OPS is more than 40 points higher than that – despite his sub-par season in 2015.  And, when the Dodgers backed out of the Aroldis Chapman trade, the Yankees swooped in.  Even with the 30-game suspension, Chapman figures to be a significant part of what may very well be the best bullpen in the AL.  So, even if guys like Pineda, Sabathia or Nova can’t get past the 5th or 6th inning – this is a bullpen that can keep them in the game (and KC won a World Series that way).  The offense may be old – but, they have highly-ranked prospects at RF, 2B and C that could contribute as early as this year.  Part of the reason Cashman probably didn’t think he needed to go sign a big-name free agent.

DISAPPOINTING TEAMS

High expectations can often be difficult to deal with.  And, there are a number of teams that have either made moves in the offseason, or performed so well last season, that nearly everyone expects them to be at or near the top of their division in 2016.  But, as we have all witnessed over the years, there always seems to be at least one team that falls flat (remember my World Series picks from last year?? – Nationals vs. Orioles!).  So, here are my picks to underachieve in 2016:  Houston Astros and Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Astros started off last season on an incredible tear.  They won 62% of their games through May 30th, and were 31-19.  But, the rest of the year? They went 55-58 (11-16 in September!), and ended up losing what had been a hefty lead in their division, and finished as the 2nd Wild Card team, just one game ahead of the Angels.  Add to that the fact that they were an astonishingly good team at home (.654 win pct.), but were abysmal on the road (.407 win pct.), and you have the makings of a team that could fall on hard times in 2016.  They’re also starting the season with their #3 starter on the DL.  Don’t be surprised if the Astros are closer to a .500 team than a playoff contender.

The D-backs made a lot of noise this offseason.  They landed the most sought after starting pitcher.  They traded for another with top-tier potential.  They already had one of the best offenses in the National League. Many are already penciling them in as the AL West favorites.  But, I say we can’t hand them the crown yet.  First of all, I’m not convinced Zack Greinke has what it takes to lead a rotation.  By far, his best years have been behind Kershaw in LA, and his mental makeup has been shaky in the past.  Secondly, they seriously overpaid for Shelby Miller.  Yes, he’s young, but I’m not sure he has done enough to warrant the package they sent to Atlanta.  In 3 full seasons at the big league level, Miller has a nice 3.27 ERA.  But, if you dig a little deeper, you’ll see that he has a 1.24 WHIP and a 3.87 FIP.  These aren’t horrendous numbers, but they are more the type of numbers you want from a #3 starter – not a guy you decimate the top of your farm system for (sent their two best prospects), and give up a top-of-the-order outfielder with excellent defensive skills.  But, Miller will be expected to be the #2 starter in Arizona, primarily because beyond Miller and Greinke, their rotation is suspect. Add to this the fact that Arizona’s bullpen is mediocre at best, and they will have the Dodgers and Giants to deal with on a regular basis – and, I’m not sold on Arizona as anything more than a .500 team.

2016 Top 10 Third Basemen

The sun is shining a little brighter.  The air is warming up.  The grass is turning green again.  And, games are being played in Arizona and Florida.  It’s an exciting time of year!  As we continue to look through MLB Network’s “Top 10 Right Now” lists, we’ve come to the hot corner.  There is some impressive young talent at this position right now.  Several names that weren’t even in consideration just a year ago.  So, let’s take a look at MLB Network’s list:

  1. Josh Donaldson (TOR)21665415229_16f1a71113_k
  2. Kris Bryant (CHC)
  3. Adrian Beltre (TEX)
  4. Manny Machado (BAL)
  5. Justin Turner (LAD)
  6. Nolan Arenado (COL)
  7. Jung Ho Kang (PIT)
  8. Matt Carpenter (STL)
  9. Kyle Seager (SEA)
  10. Todd Frazier (CHW)

Before I even look at the numbers, my initial reaction is that this list is probably a little closer to what I would expect than the other lists have been.  The biggest question mark, for me, is Kris Bryant.  Yes, there seems to be an incredible amount of potential there, and yes he won the Rookie of the Year award.  But, he also led the league in strikeouts (199!), and has just one season under his belt.  Ranking him as high as #2 seems to be putting an enormous amount of stock in what he probably will be, rather than what he is right now.  Arenado seems a bit low, considering the year he just had.  And, while names like Justin Turner, Kyle Seager and Jung Ho Kang don’t strike me as guys that I would assume would be on the short list of great third basemen, I don’t immediately know who should be ahead of them.

After looking at the statistics, I see that my list ends up being even more similar to MLB Network’s list than I first imagined.  There just aren’t a lot of third basemen that are performing at a high level in today’s game.  Or, perhaps the best way of saying it is this:  there are very few third basemen that are excelling in a wide number of categories.  The difficult part of putting this list together ended up being where to place emphasis.  One guy gets on base a lot (Carpenter), but doesn’t really excel at anything else, and is actually atrocious defensively.  One guy has huge power numbers (Arenado), and is a top-5 defender, but his overall offensive production is mediocre because he doesn’t run well, and doesn’t get on base much.  Some guys have health concerns, some guys don’t have a lot of experience, and so on.

My list ended up with 12 guys being considered seriously, when it was all said and done.  Honorable mention goes to Matt Duffy, of the Giants.  It was a very close call at the bottom of my list.  Trying to decide between three guys for the last spot was nearly impossible.  Duffy is a top-10 defender, and an excellent baserunner.  But, his overall offensive production is closer to the middle of the pack, because his power just isn’t there.  It may still come, as he’s just going into his age 25 season.  But, for now, I had to put him at #11.  So, here are my top 10:

  1. Josh Donaldson
  2. Kris Bryant
  3. Manny Machado
  4. Adrian Beltre
  5. Anthony Rendon (WSH)
  6. Justin Turner
  7. Todd Frazier
  8. Jung Ho Kang
  9. Kyle Seager
  10. Nolan Arenado

Let’s start with the name left off my list – Matt Carpenter.  He ranks 12th for me.  He ranks 2nd only to Turner in OBP over the last two seasons, which is the primary reason his wRC+ is 5th among third basemen.  But, beyond these numbers, Carpenter goes from average (12th in SLG), to below average (19th in baserunning), to just plain awful (40th in DRS and 34th in UZR).  The only other person anywhere close to that bad in any category was Arenado (32nd in baserunning).  So, I couldn’t justify placing Carpenter ahead of any of the others who were at least able to be average in most areas.

14430676940_b00412109c_zThe biggest surprise, to me, was Rendon.  Not only was he not on MLB Network’s list – but, he didn’t crack any of the analyst’s lists on the show.  My first thought was – is he actually playing 3rd base?  And, he is projected to be the Nationals’ starter.  I’m guessing that what many have forgotten is how great his 2014 season was.  Yes, he played well below that in 2015 – but, he also only played 80 games due to an injury.  And, he’s going into his age 26 season, which tells me he’s still coming into his own.  So, I believe 2014 is much more the type of player he is than 2015.  And, even with a bad 2015 season, he still ranks 8th in OBP, 8th in DRS, 10th in wRC+, and doesn’t rank below 14th in anything else over the last two seasons.  That’s more than anyone ranked below him can say.

Arenado dropped to the bottom (and nearly out), because his OBP is below average (.325 – 22nd), which impacts his wRC+ (117 – 12th), and his baserunning is poor (-2.4).  Yes, his power numbers are great (.544 SLG – 1st), but don’t forget where he plays – his SLG was 71 points higher at home than on the road last year.  What got Arenado into the top 10, for me, was his defense.  Frazier, Kang & Seager were all very very tight.  The only area Frazier seems to struggle is OBP (.322 – 26th).  Other than that, Frazier is in the top 11 in everything.  Kang is a below-average fielder (17th in DRS & 23rd in UZR), but is very productive overall with his bat (130 wRC+ – 4th).  Seager is good, but not great, at pretty much everything – with the exception of being a terrible baserunner (-6.4 BsR – 40th!).

Justin Turner surprised me – he’s at the top in wRC+ and OBP, and is 3rd in SLG over the last two seasons.  And, while he’s an average defender, and only a below-average baserunner, I just couldn’t bring myself to put him any higher on the list than I did.  I was actually tempted to put him behind the Frazier/Kang/Seager pack.  Turner is going into his age 31 season, and has yet to play a full season.  His 126 games last season were the most he has played in his career.  And, he had knee surgery during the off season.  Yes, he has been very productive over the last two years – when he has played (235 games total).  But, they have also been, by far, the most productive seasons of his career.  I’m just not comfortable expecting great numbers to continue.

Kris BryantThe other surprise, to me, was Kris Bryant.  I tried to find a way to move Machado or Beltre ahead of him, but just couldn’t do it.  Beltre and Machado are clearly the superior defenders (along with Donaldson, they are the gold standard at 3rd), but it isn’t as if Bryant is stinking it up.  He’s 18th in DRS (which is a cumulative stat, and he has only one season under his belt), and 15th in UZR – putting him right in the middle of the pack.  And, Bryant’s offensive production (3rd in wRC+ & OBP, 4th in SLG) and baserunning skills (2nd in BsR) are so far ahead of Machado & Beltre, I just couldn’t justify moving him down.  And, if you throw in my subjective category of “age factor,” Bryant’s only going to get better.

Donaldson was the easiest choice of the entire group.  No one excels both offensively and defensively the way he does, at third base.  He’s in the top two in wRC+, SLG, DRS & UZR, 5th in OBP, and his lone “bad” category is his 2.4 BsR, which ranks 15th.  And, he’s still in his prime (just turned 30 in December), so I don’t expect him to relinquish the top spot anytime soon.

2016 Top 10 First Basemen

When compared to the previous two posts in this series, deciding who the top 10 first basemen are is a much more straightforward task.  This is an offense-first position.  Not to say that defense is entirely irrelevant – we will certainly consider it.  But, it will not weigh nearly as heavily on the decision-making process as it did for CF and SS.  Let’s take a look at the list from MLB Network’s “Shredder.”

  1. goldschmidtPaul Goldschmidt (ARI)
  2. Joey Votto (CIN)
  3. Miguel Cabrera (DET)
  4. Anthony Rizzo (CHC)
  5. Edwin Encarnacion (TOR)
  6. Jose Abreu (CHW)
  7. Adrian Gonzalez (LAD)
  8. Freddie Freeman (ATL)
  9. Chris Davis (BAL)
  10. Brandon Belt (SF)

Perhaps it’s because of the more singular focus of the position – but, when I first look at this list, I don’t see any glaring weaknesses.  I might re-order a couple of them – I know Adrian Gonzalez has an excellent glove, but his age makes me think he might slide down on my list.  I love Eric Hosmer as a leader and clutch player,  but I would be surprised if his stats from the last couple years will be enough to push him into the top 10.

Here is my top 10, after crunching the numbers:

  1. Paul Goldschmidt
  2. Anthony Rizzo
  3. Joey Votto
  4. Miguel Cabrera
  5. Edwin Encarnacion
  6. Jose Abreu
  7. Lucas Duda (NYM)
  8. Brandon Belt
  9. Freddie Freeman
  10. Adrian Gonzalez

thedudejpg-6ae460fd45583e12The first thing I did after compiling my list, was go look at what the various analysts on MLB Network did with Duda.  Not a single one had him ranked in their top 10.  I don’t get it.  I mean, I understand that he doesn’t belong in the top 5.  But, the guy ranks in the top 10 in every offensive category I considered over the last two years at first base – something none of the guys ranked below him can claim.  And, he’s not a detriment defensively – I’d say he’s average.  I can’t, for the life of me, explain his exclusion.

The inclusion of Duda meant someone was going to be left out – and, for me, that was Chris Davis.  I know he has the excellent power (ranks 7th in SLG at 1B), but he just doesn’t quite have enough in the other categories to overtake any of the others.  When it came down to Davis or Gonzalez, it actually came down to defense.  They are neck and neck offensively, and Gonzalez is the Gold Glove winner.  As I expected, Gonzalez did move down on my list, due to his age.  Belt & Freeman’s overall offensive production is better than Gonzalez – and Gonzalez is one of the worst baserunners at 1B.  Plus, Belt has the best UZR at 1B the last two years, while Freeman is no detriment defensively.

Anthony-RizzoThe biggest mover on my list (aside from Duda) is Anthony Rizzo.  There’s only one first baseman who ranked in the top 5 in every category I considered – wRC+, OBP, SLG, BsR, DRS, UZR – and, it’s Rizzo.  A couple guys might have the upper hand on him in one or two categories, but Rizzo is the more complete player.  Add to this the fact that he’s entering his age 26 season, and there are a lot of reasons for him to move up the list.  Goldschmidt has a strong hold on the #1 spot (his #7 ranking in UZR is the only spot he wasn’t ranked #1 or #2 over the last two seasons), but Rizzo might be closing the gap.

2016 Top 10 Shortstops

Continuing with our review of MLB Network’s rankings at each position going into the new season, it’s time to look at shortstops.  This is another position that places a high value on defense.  We have to be careful, however, just how highly we value defense.  If a guy is batting .230 with no power or on-base skills, but is a premium defender, that doesn’t mean he belongs at or near the top of the list.  We’re talking about the best of the best.  And, players ranked this high need to have a good balance to their game.  Here is the “Shredder’s” list:

  1. Francisco Lindor (CLE)
  2. Troy Tulowitzki (TOR)
  3. Carlos Correa (HOU)
  4. Brandon Crawford (SF)
  5. Jhonny Peralta (STL)
  6. Xander Bogaerts (BOS)
  7. Addison Russell (CHC)
  8. Marcus Semien (OAK)
  9. Andrelton Simmons (LAA)
  10. Didi Gregorius (NYY)

My initial reaction to this list is that the Shredder is putting way too much stock in guys with less than a single full season at the major league level.  Lindor, Correa and Russell are guys that I think will be stars.  And, they may very well blossom this year into being among the best at their position.  But, unless the position is generally a weak position (which I don’t believe SS is), I need more evidence that a player can make the adjustments necessary to be impactful long-term.  Correa and Lindor played just 99 games each last year.  Russell played closer to a full season (142), but it’s still just one season.

As with CF, I’ll be looking at the same offensive and defensive metrics to determine my own list – wRC+, OBP, SLG, BsR, DRS & UZR.  I’m also using a category that is a bit more subjective – age.  For example, I anticipate production to improve compared to a player’s age 23-24 seasons, and to decline from around the time he turns 31 or 32.  This is unlikely to have a major impact on my rankings, but could be the difference maker when some players’ stats are close, and I have to make a call between 2 or 3 guys.

Let’s take a quick look at a couple guys that deserve honorable mention before looking at my top 10.  Adeiny Hechavarria (MIA) is probably #11 on my list.  He has very good defensive metrics, which was almost enough to propel him into the top 10.  But, his baserunning skills are middle of the pack, and his offense is at or below average.  Jose Iglesias (DET) is also just barely on the outside looking in – probably #12 or #13 for me.  He has an excellent OBP over the last couple years (.347 – 3rd best among SS’s), but that’s really the only category he excels in.  Slightly below-average offensive production, below-average baserunning, and only average defensive metrics.

  1. 19504105454_d8edd1ede6_zTroy Tulowitzki
  2. Brandon Crawford
  3. Francisco Lindor
  4. Carlos Correa
  5. Addison Russell
  6. Jhonny Peralta
  7. Eduardo Escobar (MIN)
  8. Didi Gregorius
  9. Xander Bogaerts
  10. Andrelton Simmons

You’ll notice that there’s only one new name – Escobar – which means only one name dropped off my list from the “Shredder’s”.  And, that’s Semien.  Semien belongs in probably the same area as Iglesias – #12-14.  He doesn’t really excel in any area – average offensively, average baserunner, and slightly below-average defensively.  There wasn’t really anything for me to sink my teeth into with Semien.  Andrelton Simmons is possibly the most difficult guy to place.  Hands down the best defensive shortstop – possibly the best defensive player in baseball – and, it’s not even close.  But, offensively . . . yikes.  His wRC+ is a 77 – which means his overall offensive production is about 23% lower than league average.  His baserunning is also near the bottom at his position.  If he played anywhere other than shortstop (where there are only 6 guys producing above-average offensively), he probably wouldn’t even make the list.

I’m also not sure I see what pushed Bogaerts so high up the Shredder’s list.  His .327 OBP the last two years is 6th among SS’s, and he’s a top 5 or 6 baserunner at his position.  But, his overall offensive production is below-average, and his defensive metrics are below-average.  He belongs in the top 10, but I can’t justify him being any higher than 9th.  Right behind Gregorius – who didn’t reach any higher than 10th on anyone’s list on MLB Network.  While Gregorius’ offensive production lags behind Bogaerts, he’s middle-of-the-pack at his position, and only slightly below league average.  Meanwhile Gregorius is an even better baserunner than Bogaerts, and he’s significantly better defensively.

8523768122_9463790fae_zI have no idea why Escobar didn’t appear on either the Shredder’s list or any of the analysts’ on the show.  His offensive production is better than Bogaerts (a 35-point edge in OPS), his baserunning is average, and his defensive metrics are average.  In fact, his UZR is very good (even better than Gregorius) – but, it seems that while he gets to a lot more balls than the average shortstop, he has some issues with throwing the ball away.

Peralta and Russell were neck and neck.  Peralta is slightly above-average in offensive production, while Russell is slightly below-average.  But, Russell has a significant edge in baserunning skills.  And, Russell has the better UZR.  What really impressed me about Russell is the fact that he has the same number of defensive runs saved as Peralta, but in 2,000 fewer innings.  Throw in the added subjective nature of my age category (Russell is going into his age 22 season, while Peralta his age 34 season), and the edge, in my opinion, has to go to the up-and-coming youngster.

Lindor & Correa may very well be fighting it out for the #1 spot over the next 10 years.  But, not this year.  99 games is enough to qualify you for ROY honors.  But, even as good as their statistics were (Lindor has a significant edge defensively, while Correa only has a slight edge offensively – in case you were wondering why they’re ranked in the order they are), I can’t bring myself to rank them at the top “right now.”  They’ve proven they are in the discussion.  But, haven’t done it long enough to belong ahead of Tulo or Crawford.

8707712101_f872ec6771_zTulowitzki at the top is probably not a surprise.  Brandon Crawford, however, doesn’t get near the credit he deserves.  He’s a top-5 SS when it comes to offensive production, he’s an above-average baserunner, and he’s second only to Simmons defensively.  He really is the whole package – and, is actually the only SS on my list to rank in the top 10 in every category.  I gave brief consideration to ranking him #1, even ahead of Tulo (which Ripken actually did on the show!).  But, Tulowitzki is very good defensively, and one of the best in all of baseball in offensive production.

2015 Cy Young Awards

Tonight, we will find out the winners of this year’s Cy Young Awards.  I believe this is easily the most difficult choice for the BBWAA this offseason.  Manager of the year doesn’t have a lot of pressure behind it; Rookie of the Year was obvious in one league, and you couldn’t go wrong between two guys in the other; MVP is pretty clear in both leagues.  But, Cy Young?  In the National League you have a nearly impossible choice to have to make between three fantastic pitchers.  In the AL, there wasn’t one especially dominant pitcher, so they all have flaws.  You just have to figure out which one’s flaws matter the least.  Due to the nature of this year’s candidates, I’m only going to give my top 3 in the NL, but a top 4 in the AL.

American League

  1. 21212873379_d9c1e213a9_zDavid Price (DET/TOR)
  2. Dallas Keuchel (HOU)
  3. Sonny Gray (OAK)
  4. Chris Sale (CHW)

Let’s start with Sale.  I wanted to include him on this list, because even though he wasn’t a finalist for this award, he deserves some recognition.  I can understand why he wasn’t a finalist (10th in ERA, 13th in BAA), but Sale still had an excellent season.  He led the league in FIP, K’s and K/BB ratio.  And, if he had received just a little more run support (38th among starters with at least 140 IP in the AL), he likely would have finished well above 13 wins.

There were only three pitchers in the AL that finished in the top 10 in wins, ERA, WHIP, FIP, and BAA.  And, those are your three “finalists” for the award.  While Sonny Gray had an excellent season (14-7, 2.73 ERA, 1.08 WHIP), and deserved to finish in the top 3, his FIP (3.45) only ranked 8th, and he was definitely not a strikeout pitcher (169 K’s – good for 12th in the league).  So, in the end, this came down to a two-man race.  And, trying to decide between these two pitchers is splitting hairs.  Looking at seven major pitching statistics (wins, ERA, WHIP, FIP, K’s, K/BB, & BAA), Keuchel ranks in the top 5 in every single one.  The lone blemish on Price’s resume is that he ranks 8th in BAA (.227), though it’s just .009 points behind Keuchel, who ranks 2nd.  Keuchel led the league in wins (20) and WHIP (1.02).  But, Price led the league in ERA (2.45), and is ahead of Keuchel in FIP, K’s & K/BB ratio.  If you toss wins aside (which seems to be a habit of many analysts these days), you’re left with six primary categories.  And, Price leads Keuchel in four of them.

There were a few deciding factors, for me, in choosing Price.  One is the aforementioned lead Price has over Keuchel in 4 of 6 categories.  Second, one of those categories is FIP – which tells me that if Price had Keuchel’s defense behind him, his numbers would have been even better.  Third, when it came to crunch time at the end of the season, Price was practically unbeatable – 9-1, 2.30 ERA from August 1st on.  Keuchel wasn’t awful during that same stretch (8-3, 2.78 ERA), but not nearly the dominance Price demonstrated.  Like I said, this is splitting hairs.  But, I would give my vote to Price.

National League

  1. 21854585988_0422f1d293_bJake Arrieta (CHC)
  2. Zack Greinke (LAD)
  3. Clayton Kershaw (LAD)

What’s the only thing more difficult than splitting hairs between two quality candidates?  Splitting hairs between three.  Kershaw led the league in FIP and K’s.  Arrieta led the league in wins and BAA.  Greinke led the league in ERA and WHIP.  So, how am I supposed to figure this one out?  Well, here’s how I came to the decision that I did.  In the categories that Kershaw doesn’t lead, he’s 3rd behind the other two guys on the list.  So, he’s just a notch behind them.  Arrieta and Greinke ranked 1 & 2 in the league in 4 major categories (wins, ERA, WHIP, & BAA).  So, what about the two categories in which Kershaw led the league?  Arrieta ranked 2nd in FIP and 3rd in K’s.  Greinke ranked 5th in FIP and 11th in K’s.

And, for the same reason I chose Price over Keuchel, it’s important we consider crunch time of the season.  Over the last two months of the season Greinke had numbers very similar to Price – 9-1, 2.12 ERA, 0.88 WHIP.  Very impressive.  But, Arrieta’s numbers weren’t just impressive . . . they were historic.  The last time someone had a run of starts similar to Arrieta’s within a single season, they decided to lower the pitching mound because the pitchers had too much of an advantage over the batters (Gibson in ’68).  The four best 10-start stretches, in terms of ERA, in the history of baseball include two guys from the dead ball era (Johnson in 1918 – 0.44 ERA, and Meadows in 1919 – 0.47 ERA), Gibson’s ’68 season (0.20 ERA), and Jake Arrieta from August 1st – Sept. 22nd.  Over those 10 starts, Arrieta was 9-0, with a 0.48 ERA and 0.69 WHIP.  After the All-Star break, Arrieta had arguably the greatest second half of a season in the history of the game (15 GS, 12-1, 0.75 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, .148 BAA, 113 K’s, 2 HR).  All while knowing each start mattered, as his team was in the midst of a division & playoff race.  As great of a season as Greinke and Kershaw had – Arrieta deserves this award.

2015 Playoff Confidence Picks

Even though the playoffs have technically already begun, it’s now time for playoff predictions.  The only reason I don’t like trying to make predictions for the Wild Card game is because it’s a single game, and pretty much anything can happen in those games.  And, that’s why baseball is usually played in series.  The better team is almost always going to come out on top in a series.  Single games can be decided by a pitcher who’s blazing hot (Arrieta last night), an offense that has caught fire at the right time (Kansas City last year), or any number of individual players or plays that send one game spiraling out of control for one team.  This is also the argument some use who are opposed to there being any portion of the playoffs decided by a single game.  But, I happen to like the Wild Card game as it is, and that’s really a discussion for another post.

Now that the final 8 teams are set, I’m going to give you my “confidence” picks.  I will rank each team in 5 categories: starters, bullpen, offense, defense, and manager.  These rankings might be based on the full season of work, but will be influenced by the last month or two of the season (just look at last year’s World Series teams to understand why that’s so important).  The team with the lowest score will automatically advance to the next round of the playoffs.  So, here we go…

Starters

American League

  1. Toronto
  2. Houston
  3. Texas
  4. Kansas City

Not only does Toronto have a Cy Young candidate at the top, but Marcus Stroman has been lights out since his return from the DL.  And, when your #3 and #4 starters are R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle, you’re in pretty good shape.  Keuchel and McHugh are a great 1-2 punch in Houston.  But, beyond those two, there isn’t really anything terribly impressive.  Cole Hamels is great in Texas, but he can’t start every game for them, unfortunately.  And, I think the Kansas City starting rotation’s issues have been well documented, so let’s move on.

National League

  1. New York
  2. Los Angeles
  3. St. Louis
  4. Chicago

The Mets have 4 studs that could go out and pitch shutout baseball on any given day.  That’s a nice commodity to have in the playoffs.  The Dodgers have 2, and then a lot of question marks.  St. Louis doesn’t really have one single dominating starter.  But, they don’t really have a glaring weakness #1-4, and Wainwright could be the ace up their sleeve.  The Cubs have one legit Cy Young candidate (who will only get to pitch once in the NLDS), one starter whose playoff resume is excellent, and then some pretty huge question marks.

Bullpen

American League

  1. Kansas City
  2. Houston
  3. Toronto
  4. Texas

No question the Royals’ bullpen is stellar.  What’s interesting is that the remaining three teams in the AL all have bullpens that are . . . well, less than impressive.  Houston’s closer has an ERA over 3.00.  Toronto doesn’t have a single guy with an ERA under 2.50.  And, Texas has multiple guys with ERA’s over 4.00.  These teams better hope they score early and often.

National League

  1. St. Louis
  2. Chicago
  3. New York
  4. Los Angeles

The Cardinals have one of the most reliable bullpens in baseball right now.  The only team in the NL that would have ranked higher than them would have been Pittsburgh, had they won last night.  The Cubs have a closer that has been lights out since July 1st (1.21 ERA, and just one blown save), and Rodney has turned out to be a great pick up.  The Mets have an excellent closer . . . and not much else.  The Dodgers have an up-and-down Jansen, and the hopes that Kershaw & Greinke can pitch 8 innings.

Offense

American League

  1. Toronto
  2. Texas
  3. Kansas City
  4. Houston

This gets really tight once you get past Toronto.  No question the Blue Jays have the best offense in the AL.  But, the remaining three teams are in varying order depending on which stat you go with.  I’m going to give Texas the nod, because they really caught fire the last two months of the season.  And, I’ll give KC the slightest edge over Houston, because in the playoffs I trust a team that is able to get on base and pressure their opponents’ pitchers/defense, more than I trust a team that relies so heavily on the HR.

National League

  1. Chicago
  2. New York
  3. Los Angeles
  4. St. Louis

The Cubs scored more runs than any NL team remaining in the playoffs.  The Mets’ addition of Cespedes and the return of D’Arnaud has made them a much more serious threat the last couple months.  The Dodgers have the best OPS in the group, but somehow managed to finish 8th in the NL in runs scored.  And, St. Louis’ best stat is OBP, where they finished 6th in the NL, which is just 3rd best in this group.

Defense

American League

  1. Kansas City
  2. Houston
  3. Toronto
  4. Texas

All around the diamond, KC is impressive defensively.  Three Gold Glove winners last year, and a 4th who was a finalist last year.  There are no holes in their defense.  But, Houston is right on their tail.  Correa is outstanding, and they are solid all the way around.  Toronto has some excellent fielders (Donaldson & Tulo), but they also have some aging guys that aren’t exactly elite fielders (Martin, Bautista, etc.).  They’re still above average, but they definitely lag behind KC & Houston.  And, Texas . . . well, let’s just say it’s a good thing their offense is as good as it is.

National League

  1. Los Angeles
  2. New York
  3. St. Louis
  4. Chicago

The Dodgers had the best fielding percentage in the NL this year.  And, that’s probably the only team on the NL side that I would suggest might have an excellent defense.  The Mets are second on this list, because they’re good, not great.  Meanwhile the Cardinals and Cubs have to put their hopes in other parts of the game.

Manager

American League

  1. Kansas City
  2. Toronto
  3. Texas
  4. Houston

Ned Yost is the only “known” quantity here.  While I don’t place a ton of confidence in him (kinda felt like KC got to the World Series in spite of some of his moves last year), he does have the experience that none of the others do.  I’ll give Gibbons a lot of credit for keeping his team’s confidence high when they were struggling early in the season.  Bannister and Hinch are virtual unknowns.  The only reason I’ll give Bannister a slight edge is because he managed the team that overtook Hinch’s team in the last month of the season.

National League

  1. Chicago
  2. New York
  3. Los Angeles
  4. St. Louis

Let me start by saying that I don’t lack confidence in any of these guys.  Unlike the American League choices, all of the NL options have proven to be quality leaders.  Maddon should be Manager of the Year, considering how many rookies are on that team.  Collins did a good job with a very young pitching staff, and some new faces at the trade deadline.  Mattingly received a lot of undeserved heat in last year’s playoffs, but he still needs to prove he can carry the team deeper into the postseason.  Matheny has led his team far, but there are a lot of question marks regarding some of his decisions.

There you have it.  Those are my rankings.  Now, let’s see how that all adds up.  The numbers in parentheses are each team’s totals from the above categories.

ALDS

  1. Toronto Blue Jays (10) def. Texas Rangers(16)
  2. Kansas City Royals (10) def. Houston Astros (14)

NLDS

  1. New York Mets (10) def. Los Angeles Dodgers (13)
  2. Chicago Cubs (12) def. St. Louis Cardinals (15)

ALCS

Kansas City Royals (10) def. Toronto Blue Jays (10)  [I gave the tie-breaker to the team that was ahead of the other team in the rankings more often.]

NLCS

New York Mets (10) def. Chicago Cubs (12)

 

World Series

Kansas City Royals defeat the New York Mets in 7 games.

I think this could be a great Series.  I give the edge to KC, because I think they have the edge in bullpen, defense, and manager.  The Mets definitely have the edge in starting pitching, but I don’t think that’s enough.  No matter what, I think this is going to be an exciting postseason!